This week, Iraq is holding elections. International news may be focused on the violence rocking Baghdad in the days leading up to the elections, but women are focused on their rights and changing roles in Iraqi society.
The United Nations notes that due to decades of economic sanctions, violence, and repression, women in Iraq have been consistently marginalized both economically and socially. This repression has been in part due to limited access to education and employment opportunities, as well as violence against women and lack of institutional support for gender equality, particularly in rural regions. To break down the numbers, 28.2% of girls and women over the age of 12 are illiterate in Iraq; this is nearly double the percentage of boys and men over the age of 12 that are illiterate. The United Nation also notes that the reason why women do not reach their desired level of education is due to family resistance or refusal.* Lack of education leads to fewer economic opportunity and thus financial independence, further marginalizing women or all age groups.
Despite this discouraging fact, women in Iraq have been making significant advancements. One of these advancements comes in the form of microfinance loans, such as through the Private Sector Development Program in Iraq, sponsored by UN Women. Providing women with small loans to start their own at-home businesses to enhance their independence and economic stability has proven successful in recent years. Non-government organizations, such as Daughters of Iraq and Women’s Empowerment Organization (WEO) offer vocational training that enhances women’s confidence, builds economic prospects and their agency and independence.
Women in Politics
Since 2005, the Iraqi constitution has required that a quarter of Iraqi parliament members are female. While it is clear that women’s economic empowerment has a long way to go in terms of gender equality, the fact that there is a required representation of women in the government, even if they are a minority in number, is a positive step. However, although women are represented at the national level by law, they are still underrepresented at the state and rural level of government.
Progress has recently been made by the State Ministry for Women’s Affairs (SMWA), which has promoted a national strategy to promote gender equality in Iraq. SMWA also pushes for women’s issues to become a mainstream concern in Iraqi society, rather than being dismissed as a minor issue by the government.
Clearly, women in Iraq deal with many difficulties on a daily basis, ranging from educational and economic inequalities to overt sexism. However, positive steps are being made both by domestic and international organizations to enhance gender equality and opportunities for women of all ages in Iraq. Given time and continued support by human rights and education advocates, the next generation of Iraqi women will have access to the same opportunities that their counterparts in other areas of the world do.
What can you do? Keep Iraqi women in mind and continue to support the organizations that support them, such as the UN Women. An issue that is seen is not forgotten.